ALDE Summer Academy | 1&2 July

This 2015 edition of ALDE Group’s Summer Academy aims at explaining what the parliamentarian group represents and discussing solutions to get our continent growing and youth working. It will be an occasion to understand how the ALDE Group’s galaxy works for us: the parliamentarian group, its two European political parties (EDP and ALDE party), their political foundations (IED and ELF), their youth organisations, as well as the group at the Committee of the Regions.

We want to be given the tools to understand and confront the problem that most affect our generation: unemployment. For that youths will approach issues such as brain drain, mobility, free trade, entrepreneurship and apprenticeship. During these two days of intensive work, young Liberals and Democrats will gather in Brussels to work and network for a Europe that works for young people!

Democrat speakers will attend this event, amongst them: Marian Harkin, Jean Arthuis, Jean Marie Beaupuy, François Lafond.

Follow us during the Summer Academy on Twitter: #Youth4Europe

The 1st Summer Academy was organised in 2007.  This event brings together more than 100 liberal and democrat youths from all over Europe as well as from Macedonia, Russia, Ukraine, San Marino and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Academy provides a unique opportunity for the young people to come together, to listen to and discuss with Members of the European Parliament, representatives from EU Institutions and experts in the area related to the topic of the Academy.

More details here


Brexit or not Brexit: that’s the European future!

After his victory with a surprising majority at the last British General elections, David Cameron now gets a strong mandate to carry through with one of his key campaign issues: renegotiate United Kingdom’s term of adhesion to the European Union and hold a referendum on its membership before 2017. Shortly after his victory, David Cameron toured European capitals to convince his counterparts to let Britain secure more opt-outs, and of the necessity of EU treaties changes.

Ten years after the trauma of the French and Dutch “No” votes to the European Constitution, the issue of institutional changes comes back on the agenda. The EU architecture still lacks clarification. As Democrats and Federalists, we think that Member States should not fear this democratic debate and that this is the occasion to discuss what Europe we want, by putting forward our propositions for more integration.

As a starting point, it should be clearly said to David Cameron and the British people that the European Union is based on certain core values and this is impossible to compromise on them. These values are the heart of the European project. Suggestions to reduce intra-European immigration or deprive migrants of their welfare rights in Britain are not acceptable. Freedom of movement and non-discrimination between EU citizens are basic principles on which the EU is built. Removing these rights in order only to secure British membership would be a terrible mistake. It would give the illusion of strengthening the Union by actually weakening its foundations.

Moreover, David Cameron’s partners should respect British demands and work as much as possible to keep Britain inside the Europe Union. Indeed, the democratic mandate given by the British people for this renegotiation suffers no contestation. The United Kingdom is a major EU country and its departure would be a terrible precedent that would weaken the entire Union. Furthermore, some of Cameron’s demands are positive, such as his pledge to cut red tape and simplify EU rules, or his commitment to strengthen the common market for services.

Most important of all, negotiating in good intelligence with David Cameron would be a good way of obtaining more integration for the countries that desire it. Time has come to reinvent Europe’s architecture. The Euro zone should be the EU core, with more economic and political integration, while an outer circle of countries would merely be focused only on the common market. Those who want to truly build an “ever closer Union” should be able to do so.

A referendum will be held in the United Kingdom. In two years, the European Union could be paralysed, or become more democratic, pluralistic and integrated than ever. All European Democrats and Federalists should make their voices heard so only the latter occurs.

 Vincent Delhomme (@VincentDelhomme)

(Photo: European Commission)

Google and Gazprom cases: important steps for Europe

These have been busy weeks for the Directorate General for Competition, the almighty European market regulator. Spurred by its iron fisted Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, on the 15th and 22nd of April, the European Commission decided to take action against Google and Gazprom, over allegations of having abused their dominant position on the market. These decisions are without prejudice of the outcome of the investigation, but the two firms may face fines up to 10 % of their turnover, amounting to billions of euros.

DG COMP: the world’s most powerful competition authority

Competition policy is one of the few competences exclusively exercised by the Commission – the Member States keeping their own competition authorities for issues relevant to their own national market – making the DG COMP the world’s most powerful competition authority. European competition law does not condemn the dominant position one can acquire through fair competition, innovation and the better quality of your products. It aims at protecting the consumer by keeping big firms from using their power to strengthen their position and eliminate competition, in order to favour their products or services and charge higher prices on the market.

After having conducted a 5-year investigation, the Commission believes Google has exploited its dominance in the online search engine market- it currently holds 90 % of this market in Europe – to prioritise its own comparison shopping product over the ones of its competitors. Basically, a consumer searching for a comparison between products on Google would be more likely to be redirected to Google’s own comparison system than to the ones of its competitors, regardless of how appropriate Google’s service is to the request of the user. Google would be using its strength on the search engine market to gain power on other markets, stifling competition and ultimately harming consumers. Having been a key actor for innovation in the last decades, Google is now suspected to unlawfully protect itself from potential competitors.

In the Gazprom case, the potentially illegal behaviour is more obvious. The Commission is investigating anti-competitive practices in Central and Eastern Europe. Given that Gazprom is a vital supplier of gas for many EU Member States, it enjoys a huge bargaining power that he may have used to limit cross-border competition and impose higher prices to consumers.

The United States and Russia quickly denounced the Commission decisions as politically motivated. Commentators have also pointed that the Commission might have acted to cover its own weaknesses on the digital and the energy market, two markets that happen to be the priorities of the Juncker mandate. There is some truth lying in these criticisms. As long as a foreign actor is capable of offering better or cheaper products to European consumers, it should be welcomed. Google, a company that has been fostering innovation in many markets ought not to be punished for its success. Competition regulation should remain primarily a legal tool and should not be twisted to serve any protectionist agenda.

Nonetheless, together with the law goes the way to enforce it. The Commission has a political role in setting up priorities and approaches in the way it implements its rules. To that extent, the Commission steadiness is important, for it has often been argued that Europe was unable to protect itself. The Union should use this opportunity to show that it is working for the sake of its citizens and is ready to use its strength to protect them. As the world’s strongest consumer market, the EU has the capacity to face the world’s biggest companies, a capacity that none of its member states enjoys alone.

It goes with the essence of the European project and its credibility

The final outcome of the investigations is not known yet and the Commission will have the possibility to settle an agreement with the parties. But the European Union has just shown that it was ready to act according to its rules when the interest of its citizens was threatened, no matter how big the adversary was. It is consistent with the vision the European Democrats have always defended, of a strong and protective Europe in globalization. It is crucial, because it goes with the essence of the European project and its credibility.

These developments are a vital reminder of how Europe can stand in a globalized world. United, it has the capacity to make its voice heard, divided it is bound to be an addition of small entities, struggling in front of tomorrow’s giants.

 Vincent Delhomme (@VincentDelhomme)

(Photo: European Commission)

Smart Cities: connecting citizens

During the weekend of the 18th and 19th of April, Young Democrats for Europe were invited in San Marino by our member Alternativa Giovanile to take part in a key conference tackling the subject of “Smart Cities”. Two YDE members, namely Olivier Gloaguen, researcher and Pierre Bornand, Vice president of the Young Democrats for Europe, represented our movement alongside with several key speakers on such an important subject; a “Connected and Intelligent City of the Future”.

Among those speakers were Yann Wehrling, Spokesperson of the French Mouvement Démocrate (Modem), Eneko Goia, San Sebastian council member and member of Basque National Party (PNV), Davide Triacca, representative of the Centro per un Futuro Sostenibile (Italy), Christophe Buergin, mayor of Zermatt (Switzerland). Each of the participants explained their views on the City of Tomorrow, giving both theoretical and practical approach to what could look like those cities in the near future, from a Metropolis and Small city (Like San Marino) perspective.

Olivier Gloaguen, speaker for the YDE, had the occasion to take the floor to detail his practical experience of a Smart City, especially regarding the UK Model and a platform he designed during the last local elections in Fontenay le Fleury City (France).

He also highlighted that there aren’t many steps between “smart cities” and “dark cities” given the fact that those intelligent cities could well prove themselves 1984 Orwellian cities if they were not really monitored by politics and democracy.

This week-end also enabled us to know more about San Marino and meet our young friends from Alternativa Giovanile. We thank them for their invitation and we will be pleased to welcome them to other conferences we are organising at YDE European level.

Pierre Bornand (VP – @pierrebornand)

Please find below Olivier’s speech:

First of all, and on behalf of the Young Democrats for Europe, I would like to thank you for inviting me to talk about smart cities and share with you a few thoughts about current and future development of smart cities

The example of smart cities development and support policy in the UK

I won’t comment in length, neither will I detail all British policies supporting smart cities development, that is not point here, but I would just like to take a few minutes first to share with you a couple of remarks on what I find to be a rather effective policy: a policy that strongly support entrepreneurship and innovative SMEs.

What I have discovered, is that from the very beginning, the British Government has been very keen in supporting, promoting and financing smart cities related projects, directly at the level of the Prime Minister, with the Government Office for Science. They have started, what is called, a “Foresight Program” entitled “Future of cities”. Foresight is prospective program aiming at exploring where the British innovation and related funding efforts should be channeled to So with such a program, the Government sends a very strong signal.

Very early one, the Government decided to bet on innovation and on the British (young) entrepreneurs They have launched a “Catapult centre”, an incubator of start-ups dedicated to the design of future cities and based in London. This incubator gathers SMEs and universities to foster innovation, with the immediate goal of developing, testing and commercializing operational solutions.

The UK has then put forward four “Future Cities Demonstrators” that have been selected through a competition and which have received extra funding (about £33 M in total) in order to implement several smart solutions and be used as live demonstrators. This process is twofold. First, it serves as a powerful communication tool and these four cities have been selected through a nationwide competitive process between about thirty candidates. This process forces the cities to compete and challenge their imagination to propose the most cutting-edge and innovative projects.

I just wanted to mention this example of support policy as I think it is an example of a rather good policy as it gathers a strong political will, translating into effective support schemes and most crucially, into practical implementation involving SMEs and start-ups.

Deploying smart technologies in a small city

This first experience taught me something: if one wants to deploy prospective smart technologies into cities, one must by all means support innovative SMEs.

Is it possible to deploy smart city technologies and applications in a rather small city of about 13,000 inhabitants, with limited budget resources? I believe it is possible. However, you must rely on the smartness of inhabitants first.

For instance, you can deploy an application available on smart phones and connected to the website of the city, which would allow people to map any issue they can spot in the streets. Imagine that you see an overflowed trash bin, a new graffiti on a wall, a leaking water tap, a hole on the street or a fallen tree branch that obstructs the pavement. You just take a picture of it and send it via your smart phone application, with a small comment. The problem is located on the map, with a small report form appearing that describes the location, the time and date as well as the comment left by the user. Everybody can then see this kind of information, as it freely available on the map. The appropriate department of the municipality services immediately receives the information and can act about it to solve the problem. Furthermore, the maintenance service answers the request, with a comment that appears on report form located on the map and that everybody can see as well. All the users can therefore know that the city services are aware of the issue and know within which period of time they plan to solve the problem.

What I have discovered through my discussions with the inhabitants is that they generally do not expect or even request the problem to be solve immediately and not even within the next few hours or maybe days. No, what they really want to know is that their request is truly taken into account as well as to know when the problem is planned to be solved and to get a feedback. Such a map allows interaction between the users and the city services, through the comments and the answers provided by the services and publically available on the map. Providing regular updates on the follow-up of your request is crucial, as it fulfills the basic – and right – expectation of the citizens, that because they pay taxes they should have in return a proper service. Moreover, the way people are reporting a particular issue also provides valuable information on the urgency of the problem and the efforts that should be put in solving it. If in a matter of a few hours, the services receive tens of reports, it means that something must be done immediately.

This map can become much more than just a map to localize broken thing. It could indeed become the core of a platform where a lot of information can be shared between elected officials and the citizens, but also between the inhabitants themselves.

Moreover, one should always put forward the idea of contracting the development of such an online application to a young start-up, or even, maybe, to young entrepreneurs, if possible. It is, of course, much easier and much more secure to just buy off-the-shelf technologies from established big firms, but I believe that local officials can create much more value added by contracting the development of such smart tools (like an online interactive platform) to young entrepreneurs. They constitute the future, they have the potentiality of creating jobs, they have ideas, but they often lack the first few contracts that would allow them to develop and commercialize their concept. And, you could even attract them to settle in your city, with new jobs at the end of the day!

Another application, that can be related to the interactive mapping of the city is the possibility offered of ratting things. In some particular places, a sticker would inform the passer-by that they can give their opinion on something. Using the app, people flash a QR-code and they can rate the thing in question, with the possibility to make a public comment, which will then appear on the interactive digital map of the city.

As you all well know, the concept of smart city mainly rely on sensors, that is on the ability to gather a many pieces of information from various sources, mix them, analyze them and then use it, in order to provide better services and infrastructures. Of course, the ultimate goal is to deploy this kind of sensors. But deploying a network of wireless sensors is quite expensive and a small city like ours could not afford it. Apart of easing and encouraging the communication between the local administration and the inhabitants, this is precisely one of the reasons why we opted for an interactive map through a smart phone app: all the inhabitants would thus become the ‘smart sensors’ of our smart city! 

Another aspect related to smart city, is linked with open data. I won’t develop this topic in large, but I will just mention a couple of things about this proposition. The idea was to make most, if not all, the data related to the management of the city publically available

You can make the citizens true actors of the major decisions taken by the city. Let me explain how. Local governments are facing a massive reduction of subsidy from the central Government. This means that one of the main sources of revenues (alongside local taxes) is severely constrained and therefore complicated choices must often be made between several projects, when they cannot all be funded.

For instance, the main issue could be about the construction of a new municipal swimming pool as well as the rehabilitation of the city centre, an investment of several millions Euros. It was rather obvious that if a municipality were committing in building them, this would have implied holding back other projects or raising up the level of local taxes. When talking with the inhabitants, their opinion on whether the city should spend several millions euros in a new swimming pool were quite diverse, but they were also changing when exposed to the constraints of such a choice. So we quickly decided that on major decisions like this one, involving important choices, we shall ask the opinion of the population through local referenda. However, such a choice must also be an informed one. That is where it links with the open data concept: all the relevant information about such a project would be made public, through digital support and an interactive process would have been systematically initiated between elected officials and the citizens.   

As you would agree, such propositions were not revolutionary, but they adapt the concept of a smart city to the realities of a rather small city with very limited resources. As I explained, that is precisely why one should mainly rely on an interactive online map linked to a mobile application. Small cities cannot deploy easily and quickly a large network of sensors (in the street, on parking lots, attached to street lights, etc.) as it represents an important investment.

I do believe that a small city can become smart to a lesser cost to the public finances. Developing a digital map, enrich it with already existing databases, and making freely available an application that everybody can download into his own mobile phone, is not that expensive.

Furthermore, in a relatively small city of just 13,000 inhabitants, people can still know each other, which means that interactions between people exist and therefore can only be encouraged and favored via such an interactive online platform. The aim should not only to build a rich interactive map, but also (and maybe mainly) to create a lively local community that can encourage the share of information and services between them.

Of course, such an interactive platform should be seen as the first steps toward a truly smart city by the full scale deployment of sensors and connected objects, as well as the expansion of big data analysis. Although it constitutes a first, rapid to deploy, not too expensive but also easy to be understood, used and likely to be adopted by local inhabitants.

More general thoughts about smart cities, democracy and the role of the youth

To conclude my talk, I would like to share with you a few thoughts about the development of smart cities, the technologies attached and their relation with local democracy.

No need to present again all the benefits that could be brought to local democracy, I have mentioned several of them through the examples I presented earlier. It is very clear to me that the development of smart city can constitute a formidable asset to reinforce local democracy, thanks to an increased implication of local citizens / inhabitants in the day-to-day life of their city, but also by accessing new open sources of data providing a detailed insight on how the city management works.

But one must also keep in mind that democracy should never, ever, be taken as granted forever. Democracy is a very fragile form of Government. I want to underline, here, that such a shift from democracy to a more authoritarian society may not need to be intentional and that citizens may not necessarily be fully aware of it, or even against it. One should just think of recent threats to security that trigger increased power devoted to the police, the intelligence community and counter-terrorism agencies.

The development of smart cities brings a new aspect to it. Smart cities involve creating extremely powerful tools, which if badly used, could create serious threats to democracy. I believe there are not so many steps between “smart cities” and “dark cities”.

Indeed, the whole concept of smart city is based on data. More precisely, it is based on the ability to gather a lot of data from a lot of varied sources (through a network of all kind of sensors, but also from the users themselves); to mix them all and finally to cross-analyze them and get valuable information. Compared to what exists today, the main difference resides in the fact that we mix different databases that are currently separated, for instance traffic, social networks, CCTV, emergency vehicles localization, weather, local energy consumption and so on.

The potential danger precisely resides in the bridges and connection that are built between several pieces of information that may appear, at first sight, to be unrelated, but that may in fact provide a lot of information when crossed with each other.

When misused, access to this kind of information may reveal to be a very effective tool to control, monitor or even influence people. Mixing this with a government with authoritarian tendencies, you get a potentially deadly threat to democracy itself.

I think that one should always keep in mind that the next generation of dictatorships – or maybe is it already the current one like in China – is likely to heavily rely on big data as well as on the diversion of smart tools into smart bad tools.

Never forget that technology is rarely bad or dangerous in itself. What makes it bad and dangerous is the use that we – both citizens and government – decide to make of it.    

Of course, I do not think that we should limit or constrain the development of smart city related technology, but I do believe that we ought to be particularly vigilant and build from the very beginning all the appropriate safeguards: proper democratic control on all these systems, high level of transparency, attention given to the way it is funded by the private sector, control and regulation of the private partners that can have access to very sensitive and personal data and so on.

From that perspective, I think that the young generations have a particular and important role to play. First, since we are the ones who are especially concerned, as we will be the future inhabitants of all the smart cities that are currently designed and we will all depend on the attached technologies. Secondly, because we were born at the same time than most of the core technologies used in smart cities: Internet, mobile phone, social networks, big data. This makes us particularly aware of how all these technologies works and more importantly aware of some of the dangers attached to them.

Finally and to conclude on a more positive tone, the development of smart cities and of all the related technologies, applications, mobile devices or innovative software, constitutes an immense opportunity for young entrepreneurs with cutting-edge innovation ideas that are ready to develop their business, to make it grow, to create value and jobs. I think this is where the smartest opportunity lies for the young generation!

Thank you for your attention.

 Olivier Gloaguen (@OlivierGloaguen)

Researcher and expert of the French Ministry of Budget.

Towards a common immigration policy

According to Amnesty International, 2014 has been the worst year for refugees since 1945. More than 50 million people have been thrown out of their home due to the increase in armed conflicts. In its annual report the NGO denounces the lack of reaction of the international community regarding this humanitarian emergency.

The EU falls short of its obligations

The European Union especially falls short of its obligations. From the 4 million Syrians said to have fled their country since the outbreak of its bloody war, the EU has only welcomed a handful (barely 4 %), while 95 % of them found refuge in their neighbouring countries. This hostility towards refugees has also lead to a surge in illegal immigration (274.000 illegal migrants in 2014 for only 100.000 in 2013). The Mediterranean Sea, by far the deadliest route of all, took the lives of 3,400 migrants in 2014.

But the burden of taking in refugees is far from being equally shared across the EU Member States. Sweden accounts for more than 20 % of all asylum granted in 2013 (26.000), despite the fact that it only represents 2 % of EU population. The same year, asylum was automatically granted by Sweden to all Syrian refugees joining the country. Germany also performs well, and has pledged to welcome 20.000 asylum seekers for the years 2014 and 2015. On the opposite, certain countries are reluctant to welcome refugees, such as Denmark, whose immigration policy has drastically toughened in the recent years. France is also criticized by Amnesty International for having only welcomed 2.500 Syrian refugees in 2014.

 A common policy has to be conducted

During a visit to Stockholm last February, Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), highlighted the weaknesses of EU policy regarding immigration, and called for a more equal distribution of refugees among Member States, be it under the form of quotas. The EU, as a continent of 500 million inhabitants and one of the richest regions of the globe, has the means to take a greater share of refugees than it actually does. Moreover, Europe needs immigration to balance its flickering demography. For most of the migration experts, the EU is capable of handling the surge in illegal immigration if it adopts the adequate policies. But this cannot be done by Member States alone, and a common policy has to be conducted.

Member States still retain much of their powers on immigration, and admission rules are very different throughout the continent. A common policy is needed to set an ambitious common target of migrants admitted per year and to ensure that countries contribute on an equal basis. The EU must also try to stop the humanitarian disaster happening in the Mediterranean Sea. States such as Italy or Greece, the gateways to Europe, must be helped to secure their borders and to patrol the Sea. It is unfair to let them suffer the burden and the costs of these missions, because they are not the countries ultimately sought by migrants. Previous attempts, such as the Mare Nostrum operation, have failed in this regard.

Towards a fairer distribution of migrants between countries

The European Commission has started to reflect upon a common immigration policy. It revealed a  few days ago a scheme by which EU offices and embassies in third “countries of origin” would process applications for asylum and refugee status before the migrants reach Europe. The aim would be to reduce the numbers of migrants illegally landing on EU shores. Strongly supported by Italy, France or Germany, this idea is fiercely fought by countries such as United Kingdom or Hungary, who consider it as a pull factor for illegal immigration. The Commission is also said to want to move towards a fairer distribution of migrants between countries.

This debate is probably one of the most important and one of the trickiest of the Juncker Commission mandate. Immigration touches the core of Member States sovereignty and is a highly sensitive electoral issue. Convincing some countries to welcome more migrants, in the midst of an economic quagmire and a rise of far-right populism, will not be an easy task. The EU will have to prove all its endowment in consensus building. But along practical considerations, there is something bigger at stake in showing that Europe’s voice cannot be reduced to the anti-immigration stance used by some of its politicians to satisfy disgruntled voters.

Vincent Delhomme (@VincentDelhomme)

Photo: Noborder Network

Young Democrats for Europe (YDE)
Jeunes Democrates Europeens (JDE)
YDE is the youth wing of the European Party.We embrace the key role of democratic principles, underlined in the Lisbon Treaty and shrined in our political belief: democracy, freedom, equality, participation, sustainability and solidarity.

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